He might not be well-remembered now, but I very clearly remember many moments of being awed at the sheer bravery and skill of Canadian Greg Moore. He wasn’t with a top rung team, but they were solid. The pretty blue Player’s brand sponsored Forsythe team’s Reynard-Mercedes was a good looking car that stands out in my memory.
He was one of the few drivers who actually seemed to enjoy the insanity of the superspeedways at Michigan and Fontana while strapped inside of a 1550 lb, 900 hp turbocharged V8 missile that was otherwise commonly known as a “Champ Car” at the time, early years post IndyCar split.
For context, the very track at which Greg Moore would ultimately lose his life, two closed course speed records were set with these cars. The first in 1997 with normal, tiny superspeedway wings. In 1998, they introduced “the Handford device,” which was a thick strip of carbon fiber hanging off the back of the rear wing designed to create a large amount of drag to slow the cars down. By the year 2000 (a year after Greg’s tragic crash at the same track) Gil de Ferran would break the 1997 record despite the drag-creating wing being installed... 241.428 MPH AVERAGE lap speed. Not top speed, AVERAGE speed for the whole lap. This drag-creating wing, once you get behind another car so equipped, one could easily pick up 20 MPH in the draft and be well over 250 MPH momentarily. That was the insanity of the late ChampCars in its heyday.
Moore once described hitting a bump at the exit of turn 2 at the Fontana California Speedway and getting wheelspin... at 220 MPH. Let that terrifying thought sink in. A car that is set up to turn left, has larger diameter tires on the right side, negative camber on the right, positive camber on the left all to maximize only turning left on an oval. You have to turn the wheel to the right to keep it going in a straight line, but it practically goes around left handed corners on its own. Combine that with cars that create incredible downforce at these speeds, but if you get more than 10-15 degrees sideways, that downforce decreases rapidly and makes it that much more difficult to control. Getting sideways with wheel spin at those speeds in such a knife-edge car is something I can’t even wrap my head around.
Instead of hearing me spew further verbal diarrhea, I’ll just post a couple more personal stories. First, a short story from Marshall Pruett on how Greg’s record does not reflect the real talent the guy had found here.
I’ll also leave you with this article from Motorsport Retro.
I will also say that to me, the 1999 CART season embodied all the best and worst of racing in that year. Incredible racing and competition, an other-worldly level of driving from a rookie in Montoya, the rise of Helio Castro-Neves (he would remove the hyphen later—reportedly got tired of being called Castro), a championship battle to the wire between Montoya and Franchitti, important safety update in wheel tethers, but repeated instances that made it very apparent more needed to be done to protect driver’s necks and heads in wrecks. Mark Blundell was out for a good chunk of the season with a nasty neck injury that went undiagnosed at first and ultimately the tragic deaths of Gonzalo Rodriguez and Greg Moore at the end of the season. Gonzalo may have lived if HANS devices were used at the time. Greg’s crash, unfortunately, was so severe that I don’t believe there was any come out of such a wreck alive. It was a gruesome sight and a freak set of circumstances and obscene speeds.
The cars, tracks and personal safety equipment have made massive strides in those 18 years, the cars are also now slower on the big ovals and while I’ll always remember the late 90s and early 2000s as being the ultimate in scary fast speeds and bravery, we may be better off with what we have now.
Greg would have been 40 this year and likely thinking about retiring from racing, many of his compatriots from the time are in that same boat now themselves. Some have already retired, others are getting close. Montoya and Franchitti already having retired, Kanaan and Castroneves are still going for now, although it sounds now like Helio will be in sports cars for 2018 instead of IndyCars but with a one off at the Indy 500. Greg would have almost certainly have had a couple championships and Indy 500 wins along with the above mentioned names had he lived.